How Yoga & Sobriety Relate

I never would have guessed that yoga and sobriety would be a focus in my life.  I went to yoga class because I felt overweight and my back hurt.  I was in early recovery but the two seemed unrelated.  My yoga was my yoga.  My sobriety, well, my sobriety was just separate.  Yoga & Sobriety   

Then I realized that the more I did yoga the better I felt. The better I felt, the more smoothly sobriety went.  I began to wonder what was going on.  So I started talking to people, cruising the Internet, and reading articles.  It became clear to me that something was happening and I was not imagining the changes I was experiencing.

Eventually, I saw that there were four things that my yoga practice was providing that also improved my sobriety.  I am sure there are many more positive attributes of doing yoga but, at this time in early recovery, I only saw these four: an increase in awareness; my mat as a mirror; confidence booster shot; and stillness.

Increase In Awareness

Once I started to become consistent going to yoga I began to notice a lot more about everything.  Emotions, thoughts, and especially cravings became obvious and somehow not so subtle anymore. Once I was aware of their presence, I now had choice as to what to do about it.  I became a lot more aware of my emotional wake, that is, the impact I was having on others as a result of my behaviors and words.  I noticed you a lot more and could see that I was shifting from being self-focused to an extreme to being increasingly more other-focused.   

At times all this awareness was a bit overwhelming.  I realized I could only take it in small chunks some days and other days I welcomed it and was grateful to be seeing a new reality.  This waking up is a common manifestation of a consistent yoga practice.  It may have something to do with having to train the mind to be in the moment when on a yoga mat in order to follow along with the class.  Having body awareness in yoga is essential and this also helped my entire being to begin to wake up to the present moment and accept it just as it is.

My Mat As A Mirror

I once heard a yoga teacher say that our yoga practice is a mirror for our lives.  I did not understand this statement at all.  I had no clue what she was talking about.  Esoteric, I thought, and therefore beyond my understanding.

I noticed that I had trouble with all balancing poses. I would constantly lose my balance and fall out of the pose.  Even after getting better at a lot of the poses I still struggled with the balancing ones.  I dreaded the balancing part of each class.   It was curios to me why this was happening.  I followed the instructions and cues but still wobbled and eventually fell out.

One day I remembered the teacher saying that our mats are like a mirror to our lives.  Bam!  It hit me.  At the time I was frantically running around like a lunatic trying to be wonder woman.  Meetings, therapy, work, family, exercise – super woman!  I would fall into bed so exhausted every night and still feel like I should have done more.  To say my life lacked balance was an understatement!

So I began to practice the graceful art of saying no and slowing down.  I had to learn that my worthiness in life was not predicated on how much I got done in a day or how crammed my schedule was.  I stopped wearing my hectic schedule as a badge of honor and worthiness.

I learned that I could have balance in my life and on my yoga mat.

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Confidence Booster Shot

I started yoga practice with a lack of body awareness and an inability to actually do most of the poses at any level of skill.  I was trying too hard and performing rather than releasing and letting go into the postures.

Yoga practice was an unfolding of a slow inner connection and an internal awareness that started to dominant my life.  Slowly, through practice and persistence, I began to gain confidence on and off my yoga mat.

The poses that once were absolutely unavailable to me, too hard or too flexy-bendy, over time became accessible.  I started to listen to my body and trust it more.  This manifested off the mat as knowing when to pause before speaking or acting.  It also meant I began witnessing my thought patterns and behaviors as an outside observer.  Not judging, just noticing. I realized I had more options; more choices available in any given moment.  The wisdom of the body began to connect with the knowing of the mind.

Getting better at the physical poses, becoming aware of the wisdom within, and seeing that my perception was the only thing in the way of true happiness and contentment, all gave me a huge confidence booster shot.

I was feeling much better in my own skin and everyone was commenting on how I seemed different, in a positive way, but no one could quite put their finger on what was different.  I knew exactly what it was and I felt like I had a superpower that was proving to be extremely useful in sobriety! My yoga practice was reaping huge benefits for my sobriety.

Stillness

Being alone was always a very scary event for me.  Anxiety would rise up and take over every thought and emotion.  I avoided being quiet and being still at all costs.  When I was quiet difficult emotions and thoughts in my body would start to pulsate and my mind would start screaming while my throat tightened.  I learned early on to numb all that chaos inside of me and to avoid being alone and quiet; avoid being still.

Savasana is the final resting pose of every yoga practice. It is also known as “dead man’s pose” because you lay completely still stretched out on your back on your yoga mat.

At first this pose was unwelcomed aspect of every yoga class I took.  My mind would race around evaluating how I thought I did during the class or my mind would be busy judging others.  During savasana every teacher would encourage us to rest, let go, and just breathe.

I am not sure exactly when it happened and I imagine it was slowly developing over time, but I began to actually try to experience what the teacher was suggesting.  Focusing on my breath was available to me so I would watch the rise and fall of my chest or listen to the wave like sounds of my breathing.  I liked the peace and serenity I felt as I gave over the need to control the present moment.  In time, I befriended stillness and actually began to seek it out.

Today, I know that I need a bit of stillness on a regular basis to pause, let go, and surrender once again to the way things are.  It helps to remind me that I am not in charge and there is no need to make things different than they currently exist.  I found true and deep acceptance in the stillness I practiced on my yoga mat.

Photo by Jennifer Regnier on Unsplash